Justin Trudeau’s Promise to Fix Parliament Falling Harder Than an Elbow From the Top Ropes

Justin Trudeau's elbowing an NDP MP in the chest was just the tip of the iceberg of yesterday's chaos.
Justin Ling
Montreal, CA
May 19, 2016, 3:35pm
Screenshot via YouTube

Imagine a train.

Imagine a train full of happy, fuzzy, adoring puppies, all playfully rolling over each other. They are rolling towards new owners, and a better life.

Now imagine that train colliding headlong into a second train, full of explosives.

That is roughly how I would describe Wednesday's session in the House of Commons. A day that began in arcane Parliamentary procedure and ended up with an elbow to the chest.


Let's go through it step by step.

It began with an announcement that the Liberal Party would be introducing a motion that would effectively cleave away an assortment of quirks, tricks, and loopholes in the Standing Orders— the things that govern how the House of Commons work—so that the meddling opposition couldn't pull a fast one, and screw with any government business.

See, on Monday, the NDP had taken the House of Commons by force and came within a hair of defeating a piece of government legislation that would have given Air Canada more flexibility to outsource jobs from Canada. That's something the NDP's union bosses did not like.

The NDP rushed its members into the House and took the half-empty chamber by surprise. They've done this before—in 2014, they managed to force a debate on missing and murdered Aboriginal women, after the government refused.

This time, they managed to force a tie vote. The speaker cast the deciding vote in favour of the government, as is tradition. That's fun, right? Fun, weird, quirky Parliament, eh?

But the Liberal government was incensed and they crafted a set of rules that would ensure that none of this procedural hankypanky would ever happen again.

The motion, as Supreme Parliamentary Nerd Kady O'Malley puts it, "would put Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet in charge of deciding when and how the House goes about its business," and would add "stringent limits on opposition-initiated motions."


That may not sound tremendously ominous to the average citizen, but—take it from someone who has covered Parliament for the past four years—it is the nuclear option, insofar as there is a nuclear option in hundred-year-old rules that govern how a bunch of politicians are allowed to yell at each other.

The Liberals wanted to tighten up those rules and crush protest from opposition parties, in such a way that could kill off filibusters, delay tactics and shows of dissent against the government.

The weird procedural tricks that allow that to happen are natural push-backs against majority governments that seem to think getting 40 percent of the vote justifies steamrolling the folks who the other 60 percent voted for.

When forced to defend it in Question Period, the Liberals offered a series of nonsensical gibberish that barely constituted talking points to argue that, by limiting the powers of individual MPs, they were improving democracy and increasing room for debate.

That debate was bookended by the Liberal Democratic Reform Minister, Maryam Monsef, who contended that the government is going to do a fantastic job reforming the democracy and you're going to love it, while offering no specifics, pretending like she consulted anyone about it thus far (she hasn't) and refusing to hold any kind of democratic vote on the matter.

It wasn't a great day anyway.

So when the NDP tried some tricks—basically, standing around and trying to make a point by delaying the vote by a few minutes—on bill C-14, the physician-assisted suicide legislation, shit got weird. Like, historically weird.


Now, the euthanasia bill is under a deadline. A court ruling takes effect on June 6, and will wipe out all the existing laws governing suicide for ill and suffering Canadians.

But there is also total chaos on the bill. The version drafted by the Liberals appears to have divided the House of Commons into a half-dozen different segments. Nobody, including many in Trudeau's own party, is quite sure how they feel about it. Does it go too far? Not far enough? Should we have a law, or not? Should we kill all old people? None? Some?

Welp, that seems like a pretty good thing for the House of Commons to figure out.

Instead, the government was moving to shut down debate outright. So the NDP—it's always the goddamn NDP—thought they'd make a point.

When the whips for the government and opposition walked into the House of Commons to take their seats in advance of the vote, the NDP caucus huddled around their side of the floor, blocking the path for Conservative whip Gord Brown.

Putting aside that their stalling tactics were never really going to be effective—even if they had put a bag over his head and whisked him down to Parliamentary jail, which is totally a real thing—the NDP were obviously being wangs.

But rather than just roll their eyes and let the third party do their little protest, the prime minister — the goddamn prime minister of a country of 35 million — blew over, grabbed Brown, and began dragging him down the aisle.


In the process, he elbowed NDP MP Ruth-Ellen Brosseau in the chest and knocked her into a desk. Now, everyone can play detective and analyze the Zapruder film until they identify the woman on the grassy knoll. But, basically, the prime minister got pissed off, bolted across the aisle of the House, grabbed another dude, accidentally knocked a woman out of the way in the process, then dragged the guy through a crowd of people.

Let's all agree that's not a great look.

What proceeded was through-the-looking-glass parliamentary procedure that saw the prime minister apologize—twice—the NDP lose their shit, the Conservatives accuse Trudeau of being a bully, Green Party leader Elizabeth May plead for reason only to be shouted down, a Liberal MP compare Brosseau's jostling to a soccer dive, and a lot of moral outrage.

But what we're left with is utter fucking dysfunction.

Rather than clean up the damn House of Commons, like he promised, Trudeau seems to be offering his own version of forced euthanasia to the place, fast-tracking its steady demise and turning Canada's Parliament into a smoldering dumpsterfire because it's 2016.

On Thursday morning, the opposition kept asking Trudeau directly: Are you going to cut this shit, drop the procedural sledgehammer, and grow up?

Trudeau responded by apologizing a half-dozen times, but making it pretty clear: no.

If anything, Trudeau turned around and blamed the NDP for this mess.

"It's important that we draw a clear line between my unacceptable behaviour and the general tone of the House," Trudeau said, ignoring that the tone of the House (shitty, with a whiff of puppyfire) is entirely his fault.

When I sat down with Trudeau last summer to talk about how fucked up Parliament is, he told me, point-blank, he wanted to make things better. He wanted kumbaya circles and friendship bracelets.

Instead, we've got… this.

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